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“Like how inconsiderate is that? Like how bad is that? He was so critical, and like twenty years older than me. I was only doing like, what they told me to do and he didn’t understand. It was like, about travel, you know, and how I wanted to do my own thing. He didn’t even see it. You see, don’t you? Like, so we are so, like …”
The unresolved conversation walked away in all its outrage and frustration, like an eight-sided thing it just bounced off and echoed in the concrete space, there and here, and again over there.
“You let me know what you want. I’ll be back shortly.”
There are words that don’t seem to stick, their meaning and the intention drift apart disconcertingly. On hearing them I find myself sitting thinking for hours and on resurfacing, find I have arrived nowhere. Shortly, is one of those words: it keeps popping up unexpectedly and hauls behind it a flotilla of frigates and formations all heavily battle weary and wounded, sailing deep and wallowing in the wake of my thoughts.
What is shortly? Can it be timed, guessed at even? Is it a relative of never-never, or anon?
Splayed out on the floor, with sharp pains in my right knee and torn skin on an elbow and people coming at me from all sides, I realised I had fallen or mis-stepped. The jolt had disorientated but I could raise myself slowly, hesitant only because normally I would have rested weight on my right knee before levering myself upright. It takes time at my ages to get upright. Surrounded by concerned individuals, I also had the task of reassuring everyone that I was fine, when really what I wanted to do was retreat somewhere alone and assess the damage.
Letters #1: I would like to draw your attention to the misuse of the words isolation and loneliness recently by two writers in your paper. In both instances the words were used as if synonymous: the meanings were conflated and a causative linkage assumed. This style of writing is an example of the criminal mis-use of a thesaurus and the devastating lack of understanding of the writers. While I concede that there is sometimes an overlap in the occurrence of these words, one cannot replace the other. For instance: I am definitely lonely, yet I am constantly surrounded by fools.
That word had been re-interpreted and misapplied, digested and regurgitated until it has conflicting, complex and arbitrary meanings, it should come with a warning: not be used without care. Context is everything. And yet, should consideration of future readers be the standard for writing? Should the many future meanings stop anyone from using a word? Sorry to spring a river of rhetoricals at you, there is no need to reply: the answer to all is, no. You have the words, you have to vision, to the best of your ability you must use what fits your purpose at the time.
It is hard to find a use of the word clotted that doesn’t have female overtones. It is unusual in the English language to apply words with a gender: gender can be implied and denied at any time, evoked by context or premise, attached by association: who said what, what was said about whom. This makes the language flexible, adjustable, plausibly deniable. While infrequently used, when clotted appears it comes bustling in with female traits and histories, invoking milky motherhood, milkmaids scooping milky curds, colds with snot and congested chests ministered by a maternal presence leaning over, soothing and calming.
My sight wavers, the blurring expected on waking, but curtains of opalescent flakes float at the edge of my vision. Within this falling, I glimpse movement: overlayered holograms, projections; multi-coloured shapes encased in multiple auras; multiple limbed objects moving like smoke. They are behind me but shift out of sight as I turn to watch them.
I can see one point clearly: directly in front of me is a translucent disc, a pale textured moon.
No this is not right. My eyeball feels clotted and is leaking; only one eye is seeing. I could be crying but feel no pain.
My perfect world would have you take steps everywhere: within houses to transition to different floors, the roof, out to balconies, to work rooms, showing off external views; the steps outside will let you enter the real world on paths that flow towards more steps curving upwards and down, turning left and right so that at different times of the day different paths are filled with sunlight or shaded, these passages covered with intrepid climbing plants with glossy leaves, embedded between stones self-seeded angel-faced miniature perennials, draped in canopies of loud colourful trumpeting blooms, and twisted trees with knotted roots.
Did I mention that I am not a fan of cause and effect, the theory that what happens is the result of something else having occurred? After the fact, to assign a linear causal link is to lie: all that can be said of a causal factor is that it may have influenced a decision. Move my internal decision counter positive or negative in a decision are multiple reasons, justifications, excuses that weigh on the outcome. And, worse than that, the place of previous decisions, historical influences, assumed knowledge, lies and deception, influences and manipulations, the weather cannot be denied.
‘Are you coming moon watching tonight?’
‘I’ve seen it.’
‘Now there is a closed mind. Perhaps I should get a microscope and look at you.’
‘You won’t see anything. It’s a waste of time. I’ve things to do.’
‘There’ll be proper telescopes to use; you need to register to get one. They’re cheap.’
‘Sure, maybe next time.’
‘Look, there won’t be a next time. Get lost, I’m busy.’
‘Your loss, friend – or should I say frenemy – I will leave you there in the dark. I’ll tell Candy you’re not going to be there.’
‘Don’t mess with me, ever.’
They tell us that this event cries out for a hero, a champion, someone to lead, someone to take charge and reminded us what we are here for. From where in our midst, they are, will a crusader arise, one who will stand for us, who will show everyone our best selves?
We are ashamed, we mumble; until our sound becomes a roar and we can hear ourselves again. We do not need to be spoken for: we speak and will be heard. We are not one voice, the one truth that must be spoken is that we are here.
Who will come down, who will tell us to part here? It seemed everyone in the village stood, on the road in front of us, baring our way through. Those who farmed or worked in the fields carried ploughs and forks, rakes and scythes; out of houses women came holding thick washing poles and sharp objects from their kitchens; these were everyday tools, ones you would expect busy people to be using in any bucolic settlement, or what they would have in hand when we arrived. In another time and somewhere else, they might have smiled and talked to us.
Counting is automatic, it soothes me: I count markers; the hills completed, those still to come, and still it is not enough. I count runners I have passed, the number in front. Of those in front I can see, I sum and average out their run numbers, estimate their average speed and the distance between us, whether I could pass them in the final sprint. I monitor my pace across the distance, to the next drink station, estimating wind resistance and core temperature the advantage of streaming now, of momentarily reducing pace and conserving energy, of moving with the group.
‘There was a resemblance. He seemed familiar; it was like I knew him.’
‘Now you mention it. Something made me look twice as we passed.’
‘There was a feeling; as if looking back in time: the whole image imprinted, it went from technicolour to total black and white.’
‘You might be talking yourselves into this, you know? Now I want to go back and walk in the door again. It seems unreal.’
‘I’m not sure. I could be making it up, it was like watching a movie. If it hadn’t happened just like that, I wanted it to be real.’
Letter #2: I would like to draw your attention to the misuse of ‘critical’. We have few strong words, words that do not need modifiers, and ‘critical’, one such word, is now in danger of being reduced to a mere synonym of ‘important’. In a recently overheard conversation was the statement: ‘It is so critical.’ While I recognise the speaker’s restraint in using only one instance of ‘so’, in the rest of the conversation there was no restraint in the use of the word ‘like’, the use of ‘so’ is a tautology. It is so important to use appropriate words.
The interview seemed to be going well. They had exchanged views, comparing values and attitudes of the times, and agreeing on the importance of the department and this job: how together these held and shaped the centre of the argument that was raging. It was just as she’d practiced.
‘It is so critical,’ she said. ‘There’s a need to make a difference.’
The tone of her voice was sharpening and the volume rising. Resisting the impulse to flap her hands, her back stiffened as she tightly gripped her knuckles below the table.
‘Let’s walk,’ he said rising. ‘I’ll introduce you.’
She thought the old woman at the next table was listening and not only that but taking notes. It wasn’t paranoia, something about the tilt of her head, the way she had scooted her chair a little closer. Anyway, she could tell when someone was eavesdropping, she always had a feeling.
She didn’t know what had caught the old bag’s attention: was it something she’d said? She should go over and grab her notes and tell her off, see what she was writing about her. You don’t see many people writing these days, it is all mobile phones and texting.
Coming around a sharp bend the sun flared in, turning the window facing me into a mirror reflecting my own face and images of the passengers in the carriage behind, most sprawled desolately in their seats as I was, with books and papers forgotten, a few upright, weaving down the corridor as the carriage rocked and bucked and swayed on its tracks with squealing brakes, the sound like metal shod hooves of horses galloping across tin rooves. And above was the pale new moon, its own rampaging horses fleeing across its surface, blue against grey, hunting with a lonely heart.
Dark and light surfaces on the moon, the patterning and texture, was interpreted in early astronomy as land, called Terra (lighter areas), and seas, called the Maria (darker areas); they copied how humans divided Earth into its wet and dry spaces. These categories are misnomers, for the moon the surface variations are due to composition: surface reflectivity of the basalt is low, so from Earth these areas appear darker. Although the Maria are thought to be planes, flows or channels perceived possibly caused by volcanic activity, the flows might not behave as water, dark and light may not indicate elevation.
In the midst of the lake, rowing madly, I watch the shore disappear as the lake expands around me on all sides; the horizon, jewelled with white-tipped mountains, curves around touching me with long reaching shadows.
A metaphor for life, no less: to be ploughing on at full stretch but seeing only what is behind you.
You feel the cold weight of water, the currents and tides, wind rising and shifting around you. Waves are tilting and swaying the boat and you see the horizon shift and sway, the sky fall on you then lift sharply up with each dip.
It is only when you scan and have borrowed a library book that the algorithm runs telling you for how long you can borrow it: books in high demand have the shortest time. Standing at the check-out with the weighty tome in one hand and the borrowing slip, that announces you have seven days, in the other, you feel the privilege of being among the chosen. There is an extra frisson to this work crafted over many years and you count the hours, review your schedule, decide to defer this, delay that, even deny sleep, to reach the final word.
On the penalties and punishment incurred when we have overdue library books; and what this tells us about the mapped-out society we inhabit, its rules and regulations, and how we bend before them.
I seek out forgotten books, those that have lost their link to current thought. In the hunt, forgotten footnotes are the most prized, they have themselves a history of homage and pathways to other ways of thinking. I look for the half-thought ideas standing on the edges of pages, silently waving, that announce themselves, the sentences and phrases leaping off the page, to chime with my thoughts.
The evidence of experience #1: Around me is a world complete and cohesive, moving in ways that track along routine and regularity: there is the high up note as the seconds tick on the clock and the discreet down note as the clock’s arm moves forward; a breathless pause; then it repeats. I follow sequential one one-hundred, two one-hundred, three one-hundred, increments that fill the days. Movement from one tick to the next, I do not allow myself to count them, I notice only the spacing and persistence. I see the eternal plane of this activity slicing into the world.
Two of us were among the thousands, waiting. Anticipation had drawn everyone here at nightfall.
They made it easy to find: luminescent arrows mapped paths through the buildings and trees, joining, leading to the field. But most people knew the way, there was no hesitation in the stream of people converging, quiet determination written on their faces.
As individuals, couples or families, the mothers gently herding walking children, pushing prams with younger siblings, they entered the field. Stamped footfalls and muffled voices merging into the rising mist.
A tactile sense of destiny was In the air we breathed. We waited.
Objects #1: Physical objects are designed to serve a purpose; some do this with grace and style, others with flair, but the majority have a history of usage that traps them into their purpose. The humble potato masher, a single purpose tool, has many variations for what is basically, a hammer: some styles result in a work of art at the expense of functionality; in others, there is no style and good enough is the only criteria. The back of a large spoon would also turn a solid softly boiled vegetable to a semi-liquid or paste-like consistency, with enough effort.
Objects #1 (cont.): And what about a fork? The desired consistency of mashed potatoes is fluffy; this is achieved partly by the ingredients and quantities used, and partly by the skill of the cook. A spoon can mash and make soupy, but a fork has the ability to sculpt.
The design dilemma is to produce the perfect tool, merging the spoon function to pound out lumps and the fork to fluff. Each design assumes that skill is subservient to the ability to manufacture a uniform desirable outcome, that a tool for mashing can replace product knowledge and years of training.
My memories are dry: pulled out and looked at too often they have become fragile; turned out often they can no longer awaken passion or joy. I have outlasted these memories, the lessons learned of respect and obedience, of pride and love, of truth and purpose, are no longer relevant. I cannot call on these to arm me or guide me to the future. My past life is no longer my rudder, it cannot help me find my destiny.
I am in transition through the present untethered and unbridled. My former life is disappearing though being misremembered and put away.
Ticking sounds from autumn’s jaundiced leaves and disjointed cicadas' carapace rattle, trapped in dirty webs hanging in windows and under eves. I know them, they invade my dreams, curled in corners fragmenting to dust. I resist waking, resist a sun that will turn me to dust as I spin, that will cool and move away as I rise late in the day, knowing another day has been wasted and time has moved forward again, leaving one of us behind. A smattering of dried twigs falls on the deck roof mocking the sound of a rain shower in this parched winter.
‘I seem to be out of step here. There is even the weight of time and how it preys upon my mind,’ she said.
We were walking quickly down the alley, trying to chase down the sun, at least I was. It was chilly in the shade, the path mossy and damp, and the cold creeping up through my thin shoes.
‘We should dance,’ I said.
She stopped so suddenly I nearly ran into her.
Turning she looked at me; as if she hadn’t known I was here; as if she had just woken from a trance. ‘Dance?’ she asked.
When is a question not a question, I thought.
‘What are you talking about?’ she said. ‘Do I know you?’
We had walked from the town square together, we had been talking, or had my mind just made that up. Had I invented a pre-story, an ongoing narrative, to bolster my confidence, inventing events so that talking to her would feel natural and easy. Is this what I do, live in an invented fantasy?
I crossed my arms, holding both elbows to stop trembling as the chill crept upwards.
‘I heard you talk to me just now. We met earlier.’
He wanted to be a celebrity, someone everyone remembered, the one person everyone saw and talked about as they walked into a room. It was not fame: fame was tacky and fleeting. You could be famous for being famous, for associating with famous people, you could be famous for being infamous: none of that seemed worth the trouble. Celebrity was a celebration of who you were: a quality you exuded, you owned, that attached itself to your belongings so that a book you signed had more value, a shirt you wore would be sought, coveted, admired because you wore it.
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